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Month: March, 2015

I lived like an ex-pat for a day (and I liked it)

Let me list some things that I did last Sunday. I was in Cotonou (the biggest city in Benin) and had some time, some money, and was not sick.

  • Slept in. Was not woken up by goats or children, rather was woken up by my body saying “Enough sleep! Time to start the day!” was therefore predisposed to be in a good mood.
  • Ate pizza, which was delivered to me, and had real mozzarella, while watching “The Wedding Singer.” “The Wedding Singer” feels like AMERICA
  • Went to a fancy-schmancy grocery store. Could afford nothing, but bought cat food and sour gummies anyway. And chips with powdered goat-cheese flavoring. It is unclear to me how it is in any way just that I live in a country with a million goats and no goat cheese. Was definitely the scruffiest person in the store and was treated politely anyway.
  • Visited a friend who works at a really nice hotel. Although you have to go into a compound that has walls that are high enough that you feel like you are walking into a war-zone to get there, once you are in it is an oasis of contemporary art and tropical flowers. As I sat surrounded by luxury, I drank real espresso which gave me a caffeine buzz that made me have slight heart palpitations. It was worth it.
  • I schmoozed with a French guy who works for security at an oil company whose compound is located near the hotel. French guy lives and works in the same building with huge walls around it. Seems suffocating but it is clear that he has access to many things that I don’t—he was not impressed by real coffee, for example. Was told by the French guy that we peace corps volunteers are confusing because we look American and speak French exactly like a Beninese person.
  • Go to some different French people’s house. Get in the private pool. Try to pretend that I am not SO EXCITED ABOUT BEING IN A PRIVATE POOL.
  • Go to the BEACH! Dip my toes in the water, turn around and see a completely naked man who seemed to be trying to rinse sand out of his swim trunks. Quickly turn away and pretend that it did not happen. Wonder about my grasp on cultural norms about nakedness.
  • Play beach volleyball with a bunch of expats and some Beninese people. At first wonder if I can hang as I last seriously played volleyball in 4th Quickly realize that pretty much everyone is terrible and I am only not good. My moment of glory happens when a 20-something year-old, 6 foot tall French man goes for a spike. I jump up to block him. He completely misses the ball. I’m still as intimidating as ever!
  • Ride in a real car that I think even has airbags to the house of a member of the Foreign Service. Swim and schmooze with expats. Officiate a water-polo game.
  • Eat Indian food until I am too full to eat any more. Watch Bollywood videos and dance in my seat.
  • Go back to the Foreign Service officer’s house where the party is still going. No one else from the peace corps went with me, so had some time to be with Americans who I haven’t already seen for hundreds of hours.
  • Took a shower with hot water and went to bed. Expat life is pretty sweet.
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Things that could be in a horror film but that are really from the MOVIE OF MY LIFE

  • I am riding on a motor bike behind a fairly large woman in a dress with puffy sleeves. As we are riding, a whirlwind whips up—not so big that it is dangerous, but big enough that there is a ton of dirt and trash in the air. I put my helmet visor down and hope it dies down soon. The woman driving stops the moto, throws her hands heavenward (think evangelical-style) and starts to scream “SANG DE JESU!!!” which translates to “BLOOD OF JESUS!!! After repeating this for about 30 seconds, the whirlwind dies down. The woman contentedly nods—problem solved—and we continue on our way.

  • I am climbing the granite hill behind my house, looking for some peace and quiet when a child, who until this point had been hiding unnoticed in a tree, screams at me; “I AM A SORCERER!” I didn’t know exactly what to do, so I said “Is that true?” He replied “MY GRANDMOTHER IS THE MERMAID GODDESS, I AM A SORCERER!! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” He then began throwing rocks at lizards and I told him I’d see him later.

  • I am cleaning my kitchen, getting rid of old food, dusting and sweeping, etc. KuliKuli is outside playing so he doesn’t get in my way. I find a huge nest of ants under a plastic container full of oatmeal. I run to get insecticide. Spray Spray sprayyyyyyyyy. With this, the ants die. But I begin to hear a rustling coming from behind my storage shelves. It is not KuliKuli, he is outside. I almost go find him so he can protect me, but since I have just sprayed poison, I figure that would be both cowardly and irresponsible. I see two antenna sticking out from behind the shelves. A cockroach! I spray him, thinking he is alone and will die and will give me no more problems. BUT THEN TWENTY COCKROACHES FAN OUT ALONG MY WALLS AND FLOOR FROM THE NEST THAT I HAVE OBVIOUSLY DISTURBED. To my credit, I did not scream. I did spray poison everywhere and lock the door and I haven’t opened it yet.

  • I am waiting for my taxi to leave (see transportation post.) This taxi is about the size of a Toyota Camry. I have already asked how many people will be in the car—6, plus the driver, plus 2 children who don’t count. This is normal. We all pile in. I’m in the front seat with another volunteer, with my backpack, helmet, and a tote bag all on my lap. Which is definitely tight, but whatever, it could be worse. We back up with difficulty because it is a manual transmission and my friend’s butt is getting in the way of the gearshift, but this problem will theoretically be solved when we start going forward. We finish backing up, the driver parks, gets out, and tries to HAVE ANOTHER MAN GET IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT WITH HIM. I am not calm. I yell “I AM LEAVING IMMEDIATELY DO YOU WANT TO KILL US ON THE ROAD ALSO YOU TOLD ME 6 PEOPLE THIS IS 7 LYING IS NOT GOOD WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM???????” Everyone except the other volunteer thinks I may be overreacting but I have made my point and they do tell the man that we will not take him in the driver’s seat. The taxi driver also tells me if I keep making a big deal about nothing, no drivers will want to take me anywhere. Just to clarify, there were already 6 humans (including 2 children) in the back seat, 2 of us in the passenger’s seat, and then they tried to put 2 people in the driver’s seat, which would have made shifting gears impossible, and could have impeded the use of the pedals. THE CAR WAS THE SIZE OF A TOYOTA CAMRY.

  • I walk into my house after going to the market, and am greeted by a cat with a bloody mouth and a 6 inch decapitated lizard who is also missing 2 legs. Soon after, only some entrails are left, and when I come back to deal with them, ants have already carried the scraps away. (Way to go nature!)

  • I am about to flush my toilet (by pouring a bucket of water into it—I don’t have fancy things like plumbing,) and find out I have worms. I can tell because they are not tiny and invisible. They are TERRIFYING!!!! I will never be able to think of my digestive tract as a safe space again. (Do not worry, I have fixed the problem with Modern Medicine.)

  • I walk into my office in a new outfit. Everyone there starts making a fuss because I look pretty decent and usually I just look like a pool of muddy sweat. One of the female apprentices says to me—“Evan, you are so beautiful. You are fat, you have a butt that is round like a grapefruit, and you have tiny feet. But if you don’t do something about your skin condition, you will go back to the United States ugly.” (Keep in mind, although I do have some sort of rash on my arms, I would like to think it is not THAT BAD.) For a moment, I did not know what to do with my face, but decided on smiling. I said, “Thank you for saying I have a butt like a grapefruit!” Which is the only thing from that observation that I will take to heart.